An October 2014 article in the journal Neuron reports that wondering and asking questions out of curiosity creates “chemical changes in the brain that help us better understand and retain information” according to a story from National Public Radio.
While the NPR article focused on children’s learning, with an example from an 8th-grade teacher, why not use curiosity every day to keep your brain sharp and holding onto information throughout life?
Here’s how I used this idea today. Today was the day to harvest potatoes from the containers on the porch. I had planted both red and white potatoes, but the plants only produced red tubers. And, the size really varied – from as big as a toddler’s fist to tiny thumbnail size.
I realized that growing my own means I learned something surprising about potatoes. They aren’t all the size we find in the bins and bags at the grocery.
This really got me curious. Why are they different sizes? Do the tubers start growing at different times? What prompts the potato plant to say, “OK, root, start raising a new potato now”? And how do they grow? Digging out the potatoes, I couldn’t tell the organizing structure. Do new little potatoes start at the top of the root system, nearest the plant, pushing their older tuber siblings further from the plant? Do they instead start at the furthest end, the newest portion of the root as the plant grows? Or maybe they sprout in-between the older potatoes, arranging themselves all along a root strand?
With thunderstorms this morning and afternoon that offered an inch of rain to my garden, I’m reminded of the painter, inventor and passionate observer of the natural world, Leonardo Da Vinci.
He was very curious and asked a lot of questions. In a quote from one of his writings, he said some of the things that piqued his curiosity included, “Why the thunder lasts a longer time than that which causes it, and why immediately on its creation the lightning becomes visible to the eye while thunder requires time to travel. How the various circles of water form around the spot which has been struck by a stone, and why a bird sustains itself in the air.”
Clearly my curiosity is not at the level of Da Vinci’s, but he is a wonderful guide. To get yourself started, try using the question “What if?” Here are two examples - one for gardeners, and one for garden observers.
- What if I tried to keep the potato plants alive all summer?
- What if I put them in a different container?
- In a different location?
For just sitting on the porch starting exactly 20 minutes before the official time of sundown every day:
- What would I write if I observed the sunset every day?
- What would happen if I recording myself talking about the sunsets instead?
- What if I took photos? What would I see when I looked back at the photos?
Let me know how your experiments in garden curiosity work.